In Memoriam of Paulette Rhone, Community Organizer, Friend
Kate Weiler BMC '20 reflects on the passing of Paulette Rhone, a community partner, leader, and friend of many in the Bi-Co.
One of the best things that Haverford has done for me is introduce me to a dedicated activist, community organizer, and all-around incredibly kind person: Paulette Rhone. Last year, I took a course with Adam Rosenblatt called Social Justice Organizations. Through this course, I had the opportunity to work on an archival project with The Friends of Mount Moriah, an organization whose mission is to preserve and promote the history of Mount Moriah Cemetery, a 200-acre historic cemetary on Cobbs Creek, and its thousands of residents. Paulette was the President and fearless leader of The Friends of Mount Moriah, which was established in 2011, when the cemetery was suddenly closed. Mount Moriah is known for being one of the only cemeteries in the area to accept Muslim burials; it also was a low-cost space for burials. It is the resting place of thousands of veterans from the Revolutionary, Spanish-American, and Civil Wars, World War I and II, and the Vietnam War. With its sudden closing, thousands of families were left without a place to visit their loved ones. Paulette, whose husband was buried in Mount Moriah in 1993, was part of the core group of volunteers who became invested in continuing the cemetery’s legacy and formed a grassroots effort to reopen and restore the green space.
Paulette worked tirelessly in leading the effort to reinvent the cemetery into an accessible green space for local residents, as well as a welcoming place for friends and family of those buried there to pay respects to their loved ones. Paulette, a Philadelphia native, advocated for the availability of green, community spaces in urban areas. She stressed the importance of nature as a healing agent and a way to bring people together. When she spoke of her work, her focus was always on its residents; how, like the living, they deserve respect and care. She emphasized the importance of integrating the cemetery and its residents with the surrounding community, establishing Mount Moriah as a community space for those of all backgrounds. Her work, whether it was physical labor repairing the damage done in the cemetery and guiding tours, emotional labor in connecting with families of residents, or mental labor in running the Board of Friends, never strayed from this focus.
I was working at Haverford’s Center for Peace and Global Citizenship this past Tuesday when I learned of Paulette’s passing. It was a piece of news that hit right at my core - while on the phone with my parents the other day, I mentioned that Paulette was one of the guests I wanted to have most at my graduation next year. In the past two years I have known her, she has become my mentor and friend. We traveled together to the Global Service Learning Summit at Notre Dame last April, where I was to present on a panel. She woke up early to attend my panel the first day of the summit, where she sat at the front of the audience to support me. She gave me hugs and reminded me that I was there for a reason, and that gave me the confidence to serve as a panelist.
My fondest memory with Paulette was on our way back from the summit, at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. She was stopped by TSA for further investigation - there is no doubt in my mind that it was because she was a black woman, and nothing else - and I waited for her. When we were back together, we sat down and discussed the clear racial roots of TSA procedures. I was angry - I found no logical reason to stop Paulette, who I revered as a saint in human form, and not myself. One of my first thoughts when I heard of her passing was that she deserved to get the time she had to spend with TSA back. Like a year ago, I was angry. Then I remembered how Paulette responded to the situation at the airport. She told me that the energy spent on anger would have a greater impact if it were spent on being kind, and taking that kindness forward. This lesson of meeting adversity with kindness, empathy, and compassion is what I will always remember Paulette for, and I am endlessly grateful to have gotten to work with and learn from her.
Paulette embodied a fierce determination to make a change in how we reflect upon, remember, and honor those who came before us, as well how we interact with those who are present beside us. In a 2016 interview, Paulette told the Philadelphia Inquirer, “‘I want to be buried here next to my husband, so I have to keep Mount Moriah going.’” It is my hope and prayer that Paulette will be buried in the cemetery to which she dedicated the last eight years of her life, where those whose lives she touched can visit and remember her.
Funeral Services for Paulette Rhone will be held Saturday, February 23, at Sharon Baptist Church, 3955 Conshohocken Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19131. The Viewing begins at 08:30 am, followed by a Service at 10:00 am.
- Kate Weiler BMC '20